If you’re still in doubt whether print-on-demand online business is right for you, check out this interview with Lydia Jacobs, a Zazzle seller who have found success selling customizable items who was gracious enough to take time and share us her own success story.
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as a very, very creative person. I’m quirky, energetic, and peculiar, and I am always, always working on something.
What was your childhood dream?
I had a lot of childhood dreams. I wanted to be the queen of a country at the age of six, but by the age of 7 I wanted to be a famous artist and author. At the age of 10 through the age of 15, I was dead-set to be a cetologist (one who studies whales), but realized a career in the sciences would require stronger math skills than I possessed and altered my goal to graphic designer instead. The dream that came true, however, was my very, very first–at the age of three, I was watching my mom paint artwork on shirts that she planned to sell at a local flea market, and I decided at that moment that I wanted to do that too. More than two decades later, I discovered Zazzle, and that dream became a reality. I must say, I’m happier with this than I think I would have been as the ruler of a small country.
Growing up, what did the word “success” mean to you?
I never really thought about “success” much as a child. I of course dreamed that I would one day be rich and famous so I could take care of my parents and never have to worry about money, but at the same time, I grew up very poor and watched my parents struggle my entire childhood. As far as my personal endeavors went, success was easy. It wasn’t hard to pass tests or accomplish my goals if I set my mind to them, but at the same time I was very aware of my parents’ struggle, and how much more elusive success was for them.
Was life easy for you back then?
Life was most certainly not easy, not at any point in my life. Like I said, we were very poor–my parents were struggling teachers, and we always seemed to be in a constant state of transition. Between the ages of 5 and 18, I moved over ten times, and went to eight different schools. To make matters worse, I struggled socially, and dealt with severe bullying for most of my childhood and teenage years. I was also sickly, suffering from illnesses, migraines, and other health problems, which added to my social awkwardness and affected my school performance. When I graduated, I enrolled at a tech college to get my degree in graphic design, but on my first day of classes, my little brother died suddenly in a drowning accident. I ended up spending the next four years in a brutal state of depression, barely able to function, and I never was able to continue my education. At no point in my life have things been easy, and at no point in my life did I get everything I wanted. What did I do about it? I chose to be grateful for what I do have, and I like to think that has made me a better person.
Was there something you wished you knew 5 years ago?
There isn’t much that I know now that I hadn’t figured out five years ago, but if you go back just a few more years from there, there are quite a few things I’d like to be able to teach my past self. For one thing, I’d be a lot more humble about my work and patient with my business endeavors. Seven years ago, I gave up on trying to start my online business because my designs weren’t flying off the digital shelves at the rate I felt they ought to be. Because I wasn’t an immediate success, I gave up, and I regret that to this day. If I had been more modest and more patient, I could have been self-employed a lot sooner than I was, but I guess that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Things you wish you did differently?
I try not to have a lot of regrets. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them, so that’s what I try to focus on.
What’s your ultimate failure so far?
I don’t like the word “failure”. The word “failure” implies that something has been lost so thoroughly that it can never be redeemed, and I just don’t see any attempt in my life as having turned out that way. I struggled for years to become a successful artist and designer, and I had many endeavors in that time that never bore fruit. I was often frustrated, depressed, and even gave up a few times. Every experience I had, however, taught me something that benefits me today, so when I reflect back on them, I can’t really think of them as failures. I am a better and more productive person because of what I have been through.
Was there a time you felt like you were just wasting your time pursuing something that seemed far-fetched to other people?
Many times, especially as a teenager and young adult when I had no success to encourage me. By the time I started encountering people who scoffed at my goals, however, I had already found my footing, and I wasn’t deterred by their doubt in the least.
How did you discover Zazzle?
I discovered Zazzle because of sheer exasperation. I had been trying to get prints of my artwork through a certain prevalent retailer, and they were absolutely horrible. The third time I received a letter from their printing department informing me that I couldn’t make prints of copyrighted material without the consent of the artist (no matter how many times I told them I WAS the artist) I stormed off to a search engine to find an alternative. That’s when I found Zazzle, and was immediately hooked.
Your reaction when you became a Proseller?
It is difficult to convey a dance through the written word.
What’s your current Proseller status?
I’m a Bronze Proseller
I noticed that you are managing more than 1 zazzle store. Isn’t it hard? How do you make time to work on these stores?
I add to my side-shops when I can, and it can be a challenge to populate them all. The nice thing about Zazzle, of course, is that once they ARE populated, I don’t have to do much to maintain them! While I have a few shops I wish I could find the time to do more with, most of the shops I create end up being pretty well stocked within a short amount of time.
How do you drive traffic to your site?
My main focus is strong keywords and descriptions, though I do share the link with friends and acquaintances who are interested.
How did you promote your work? Any secret marketing strategies?
Keywords and descriptions. Honestly, you can promote until you’re blue in the face, rent ad space, plug your wares on Facebook and Twitter, but when you get down to it, a customer who is already looking for something to buy is a far more likely candidate than someone you have to convince to be interested in your designs. Promotion through these other venues can help, so they shouldn’t be neglected, but the most important thing you can do–if you do nothing else–is to use strong keywords.
Churning out designs after designs can get feel like a routine at times, were there moments that you felt bored with it?
Oh absolutely. Even with Quick Create, it can be exceedingly tedious to add a new design to products, especially when there’s close to a hundred items you have to set it up on. About the 40th time I have to place the same couple of graphics, text objects, and so on, set them up as templates, and make sure everything is in the safe zone, I start to get a little cuckoo in the coconut. I get through it by reminding myself that no matter how bad it is, it’s still better than working at Wal-Mart, fixing myself a cup of coffee, and petting a cat before getting back to work.
Describe a typical day for a Lydia Jacobs.
Here’s the short version: Wake up. Work. Fall asleep. Repeat.
Here’s the long one: I wake up, get dressed, and head straight over to my parents’ house about a half-mile down the road to take care of the chickens. I then go home, have breakfast, and get to work. What I work on depends on my commissions’ queue–if I don’t have any orders for handmade items or original graphics pending, I will either create a handmade item for my flea market booth or create a design for Zazzle and list it. I keep working; even while I eat lunch, until it’s time to go to my part-time job helping out with a gardening class at a local after school program. I’m there for two to three hours, then come back home, stopping at my parents’ house along the way to check on the chickens again, then come home to resume working on whatever I was working on before I went into town. I keep working usual until it’s time to sleep. When I can afford to, I try to take one day off a week where I just veg and recharge, but I often find myself working on something anyway, just because I don’t like sitting still.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me–like, literally, EVERYTHING. My brain is a constant tumultuous cascade of ideas, and it is quite simply impossible to keep up with. I make as many of my ideas come true as I can, and try not to let the rest keep me up at night. The most inspiring things for me are nature and light. I get my best ideas when I’m surrounded by green and growing things.
People that inspire you?
My dad is my greatest inspiration. After all he has been through (and believe me, it’s been a lot), he just keeps picking himself up, dusting himself off, and trying again. If there is one person in this world I would like to be like, it’s him.
How do you define success now?
Success is when you have food in your belly, shoes on your feet, and a roof over your head. Just having your basic needs met is a tremendous blessing–anything extra is a bonus.
Advice for people who wants to become successful?
Be patient, be determined, be adaptable. Do not be defined by the opinions or preconceptions of others, and do not be afraid to try new things. Learn from your mistakes and celebrate your victories. Have goals, but be humble and do not expect to be an overnight success. Don’t forget to play.
In the past couple of years, I have really diversified my projects. While I focused almost exclusively on Zazzle for a long time, I now have a presence on several other websites and sell my handmade items both locally and directly to customers online. Through Spoonflower.com, I sell fabric and wallpaper I designed, and on fiverr.com, I sell custom artwork, coloring pages, and other creative goods. I set up an online amigurumi shop on my website, craftedkansas.com, and now that the growing season is mostly finished, I plan on revisiting my old, neglected shops on Etsy and Zibbet. In addition, I am selling my items locally in a high-end flea-market, and of course, I sell eggs to my neighbors, courtesy of our flock of chickens at my parents’ house. I hope to finish a children’s book I’ve been working on for a while now, but I have difficulty finding time to work on the illustrations in between my other tasks. Suffice it to say, I am keeping plenty busy!
Check out Lydia’s Zazzle store at:
Other projects by Lydia: